Last week, Maryanne Oketch made history by becoming only the second Black female, as well as one of the youngest contestants ever, to win “Survivor.” Like Erika Casupanan last season, Maryanne achieved her victory through a combination of stealth, under-the-radar gameplay, and a well-thought out strategy beneath an upbeat, positive personality.
Although she initially played a largely social game, skating by numerous Tribals due to the grace of her tight bonds, sociability, and lack of trouble-making, she took the game in her own hands at the Final 6 when she orchestrated the blindside of one of her closest allies, Omar Zaheer. That, along with a dominant Final Tribal Council performance, gave her the win in a landslide 7-1-0 vote, beating out the apparent favorite, Mike Turner.
Here is everything you need to know about the 24-year-old “Survivor” superfan, and latest winner:
Maryanne Is a Canadian Daughter of Kenyan Immigrants
Maryanne Oketch made headlines from the beginning as one of the few Canadians competing on “Survivor 42,” headlines which of course exploded once she became the second Canadian winner in a row to win, after season 41’s Erika Casupanan. Given how “Survivor” only started accepting Canadians recently, Maryanne’s win basically made Canada 2-for-2 on “Survivor.”
Although she was born January 1, 1998 in Karlsruhe, Germany, Maryanne and her family moved to Canada at a young age, and she is now a resident of Ajax, Ontario – a suburb of Toronto. Maryanne is one of three children, and the daughter of immigrants from Kenya. Her mother was a doctor who brought her career with her to Canada.
Of course, being one of three Canadians to be on the season made for an instant bond with the other Canadian on her original Taku tribe, Omar Zaheer. This is partly why they made it so far together, and why she found it so difficult to blindside him. “I love Omar,” she told the Toronto Star after her win. “I am from Ajax. He is from Whitby, and we were very close.” Naturally, given their physical proximity, Omar and Maryanne have remained close friends since their time on the show.
She ‘Loves Learning,’ & Recently Completed Her Master’s in Seminary Studies
Maryanne, who is open about her “love” for education and learning, has spent basically the past six years at college, and has obtained two degrees.
For her undergraduate, she attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where she obtained a degree in Integrated Science in 2020. She later obtained her Master’s degree in Seminary Studies, a program which she just completed a few weeks ago. In fact, Maryanne enjoys school so much that she is considering even going back sometime in the future, in light of her “Survivor” win, perhaps to obtain a second Master’s degree. However, nothing is certain yet, and she is keeping her options open.
“I just graduated from my master’s a couple of weeks ago, so I think I’m going to be taking a year off and working,” she told TVLine recently. “Then I might go back to school again because I just love learning, and now I can foot the bill.”
In fact, Chad Harvey, a Professor of Integrated Sciences at McMaster who taught Maryanne, told the Hamilton Specular recently that Maryanne was exactly the same in college as she was on TV. “The persona she exhibited on the show is very much who she is and how I remember her,” Harvey told the outlet. “She was always fun, always smiling. She was so jovial and a bit of a clown that people sometimes didn’t give her the credit she deserved.”
While at McMaster, Maryanne also demonstrated the importance she placed in representation and diversity – a major theme of season 42 – by establishing a program which provided increased support to minority students, according to the Star. She said about the importance of this program:
In a lot of institutions, there’s a big focus on having diversity, so then they’ll have that diversity but won’t have the structures to support the students. In my program, we had three Black students and I was the only one who graduated … There needs to be structuring support for these groups that are under-represented.
In her CBS bio, she also described this as her “proudest accomplishment.” Writing an article for her school newspaper, she said, led her to consulting with McMaster’s “Equity and Inclusion” officer on “creating a better framework and support for Black students” at the University. “Being able to use my voice for change that not only benefitted me was so empowering,” she wrote.
Maryanne Went on ‘Survivor’ to Represent a Number of Different Groups, Including ‘Weird’ People
Naturally, given her background at college, Maryanne was proud to represent several different minority groups on “Survivor,” and is even more thrilled about her win representing a number of milestones. Not only was Maryanne the fifth-youngest player to ever win, and the ninth person of color to win, but she is the second Black female, after Vecepia Towery in season 4 – 20 years ago – ever to win, as well as the first female, along with Erika, to win in seven seasons.
“It’s just so nice that I am able to be one of the first ones [to be] able to do that for my community,” she said in her Rob Has a Podcast exit interview of her victory. “And in the future I want other people to be able to experience what my community has been able to experience as well. People from different ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, all those different intersections.
Being potentially the second Black female to win was likely not far from Maryanne’s mind before the game started, either. When asked by Parade which winner she wanted to play the game most like before the game started, she mentioned Vecepia (at that point the only Black female to win the game), who, like Maryanne, was also highly religious. “Taking it way back,” she said, “I’d say someone like Vecepia. Vecepia was someone who was religious like me. She was the first person to orchestrate a flip, which changed the whole tone of the game. And I really see myself in her as well.”
Being a minority isn’t the only underrepresented group Maryanne is proud of representing on “Survivor,” however. Since the first episode, Maryanne has been clear she was also there to represent “weird” people, and be a positive role model for “weird” young viewers like herself to look up to. In the end, of course, it appears as though she couldn’t have done a better job.
“The reason why I’m personally here on ‘Survivor’ is that I feel as if I have a story to tell,” Maryanne told Parade in her pre-season interview. “I was a super weird kid. And I want to prove to myself and other people that you can be weird and don’t have to change yourself to succeed.”
Now, as she told Parade after the season, she is thrilled that her win proves that “weird” people of all stripes can still do well in this highly social game:
I am so happy that I did it for the weird people. We took one for the team and didn’t have to change anything. I was a crier. I was weird … I’m so happy that I was able to be genuinely me and still be able to win.
Family Is Highly Important to Her
Maryanne makes no secret of the fact that family is of the upmost importance to her.
In her CBS bio, Maryanne spoke about how her mother, who was born into a poverty-stricken village in Kenya, was her hero. “My mother is so hardworking and managed to get herself out of poverty and became a doctor in Kenya and was able to provide for her mom,” Maryanne explained. “She then gave that all up to support my father’s dreams, but then became a doctor in Canada … while dealing with the systemic racism in academic medicine.”
Maryanne went on to say that she “aspire[s] to be like her. She changed my life.”
In addition, although she has no plans to marry anytime soon, she did recently meet her first boyfriend, a man by the name of Konner Howell, with whom she watched the “Survivor” finale along with the rest of her family.
In a post-season interview with CBS New York, Maryanne revealed that the most difficult part of the game for her was being away from her family. “I think the most challenging thing for me,” she said, “was just missing my family, specifically my mom…Just not being able to go and see her, talk to her, was very hard.”
Furthermore, she has said that the first thing she will do with her winnings will be for her parents (more below).
In addition, since the show, Maryanne seems to now view most of her fellow “Survivor” contestants – even those who she never even met on the island – as family themselves.
Though she and her onetime crush Zach Wurtenberger did not end up dating, she did describe the two of them as “very good friends;” as previously mentioned, her and Omar’s friendship has been carried into the real world in Canada, and she also recently attended Mike Turner’s wedding, where she introduced him and his new wife for the first time together. All were included among a compilation of photos Maryanne posted in a “Thank you” message she wrote to the entire cast.
In addition, in a post-season interview with Gordon Holmes, she used a number of different family-related terms to describe her former castmates. This included “brother/family” for Omar, “father” for Mike, “soul sister/island bestie” for Tori Meehan, “sister” for Lindsay Dolashewich, and “mentor” for Marya Sherron, her fellow Taku member who was eliminated on Day 5.
Maryanne Will Be Prioritizing Her Parents & Schooling After Winning ‘Survivor’
In addition to schooling and travel, Maryanne told CBS New York that her primary plan for her winnings at this point is to spend a portion of it on her parents for their wedding anniversary. “The only thing I have right now is it’s my parents’ 30th anniversary this year,” she said, “so I’m probably gonna go and treat them to an anniversary trip.”
In addition, Erika and Maryanne are also two of the richest “Survivor” winners – not only because of the US to Canadian currency conversion rate (which stands at about 1.26 as of June 2022), but also because Canadians do not have to pay taxes on any game show winnings. As a result, despite the normal approximate US$600,000 a “Survivor” winner would receive, Erika and Maryanne instead got around CAD $1,260,000.
Despite this extraordinary wealth, however, Maryanne still plans to continue living her simple life in Toronto, take a year off, perhaps get a job, and maybe even pursue a second master’s degree.
When it comes to whether Maryanne will return to the show she loves so much, she almost feels as though she can’t say no. On Rob Has a Podcast, she compared the “itch” of wanting to go on “Survivor” to a mosquito bite. “When I have a mosquito bite, I’ll itch it until it becomes an open sore,” she said, “so basically, I’m an open sore when it comes to “Survivor.” It’s like, of course I can come back, but the itch is scratched. I don’t feel any need to come back anytime soon.”
Well, in the event we ever get a “Winners at War 2.0,” Maryanne and Erika will be a formidable team to beat. Future contestants of the show should be on high alert for any Canadian strategists; they have proven to be nothing but masters of the game thus far.
“Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS. Season 43 will be premiering in September 2022.